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Belarus: Council Of Europe Criticizes Referendum

Minsk, 27 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A Council of Europe delegation in Minsk today called on President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to respect parliamentary democracy and the rule of law. Delegation chairman Tadeusz Iwinski told a news conference in Minsk today that the pro-democracy body is "deeply concerned" about the course of events in Belarus.

Iwinski said his delegation did not observe voting during Sunday's referendum and could not comment on alleged irregularities. But he did say that Lukashenka's constitution "falls short of minimum democratic standards."

He also said the referendum was "contrary to democratic standards and jeopardized the future of democratic developments in Belarus."

Iwinski's delegation, which was sent by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), said it supports the democratically-elected Parliament under its chairman, Semyon Sharetsky.

Iwinski rejected as illegal a counter-parliament being set up by deputies loyal to Lukashenka.

Some 110 deputies have accepted Lukashenka's invitation to set up the lower house of a new Parliament, leaving some other 60 deputies, who oppose Lukashenka, sitting in the democratically-elected Parliament (Supreme Soviet). Rival parliaments convened separately today and Lukashenka's opponents voiced fears they would soon be evicted by force from their building.

Iwinski said that despite the Council of Europe's's criticism, nobody wants to isolate Belarus.

"On the contrary, we should do everything to help Belarus become a full member of different European and international organizations," he said.

Iwinski said the delegation has held a two-hour meeting with Lukashenka. He described it as "a monologue, rather then a dialogue." He said the delegation told Lukashenka that Belarus would have to meet the Council of Europe's minimum standards before joining the body, set up to promote human rights and democracy.